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Old 08-19-2019, 07:56 PM   #1
Michael Kazmierski Dunn
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Location: College: Alma, Michigan, USA / Home: Rockford, Michigan, USA
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Default Zampogna and reeds

Ciao y'all,
So, I guess very few of you are zampogna players here, but I thought I could ask this question.
On a 1974 recording of a zampogna... The pipes were in the key of A-flat, although the pipes were made to play in the key of G. To me, the two chanters sound harmonically better in the A-flat key than the G key where they have much weaker harmonics. Originally the tape itself was played at a flat pitch so it's the note G on the tape, but when listening for a humming pitch, this humming is at 47 HZ, rather than the proper 50 Hz. So, after changing the tape frequency from 47 to 50, the pipes became their true recorded A-flat pitch.
Since the pipes were made to play in G, I had the feeling the piper must have used sharp reeds in the pipes. However, sharp reeds would make the high notes of the two chanters dead-sharp, but on the recording they were fine. How would you suspect the reeds were made to adapt this set in this key? Note that a zampogna of the type in the recording uses double-reeds. Acoustically they sound better in A-flat, even though they were claimed to play in the key of G. Perhaps the old costruttori never knew that acoustically their zampogne sound better in a higher pitch than intended.
Here is a breakdown of the notes so that any reedmakers out there could conjure up a speculation about how the reeds were made.

Soprano chanter, going down : D, C, B, A, G, F-sharp. Sharps and flats are available with unique fingerings. Played with all five fingers of the right hand. No holes covered gives you the top D in this instance
Bass chanter : Same as soprano, but one octave lower and eliminate the F-sharp, lowest note is G. Played with only the four fingers (fingers 2 to 5) on the left hand. The tonic G is sounded by a key on the chanter, hence the name "A chiave", keyed. All holes uncovered also gives you the top D.
Tenor drone : fixed on the highest note of the bass chanter (D, the same as covering none of the holes).
Sopranina, if present : the highest note on the soprano chanter (with no holes covered), also D.

So take all these notes and transpose these a perfect half step higher just by the alteration of the reeds and this is how the zampogna sounded. Acoustically, like I said, zampognas sound better in a higher key than they were made to play, which is unfortunately the opposite on Highland pipes where old drones sounded harmonically the best when tuned to say A = 466 to 470 or something. Pitches at 480 or even higher in the Highland industry, at least to me, completely change the harmonic character of drones for the worse and not have the 'alto E over tenor' illusion, instead a dissonant 'high G over C' sound harmonically speaking.
I'm sure even reed makers of non-zampogna bagpipes might have an idea. Grazie (thanks)



Michael
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Old 08-21-2019, 07:15 PM   #2
MichiganGaidar
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Join Date: Jan 2018
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Default Re: Zampogna and reeds

I'm no zampognaro, but I am a gaidar, and there are some common threads between our musical culture and the more traditional sectors of the musical culture of the zampogna. One of them is that we're generally not too worried about absolute pitch. We make sure that our chanter is in tune with itself, and that the drone is in tune with the chanter, but we rarely play with other instruments, so if our pipes want to be a half-step sharp on a given day (which is not that uncommon during outdoor performances in the summer), we get everything in tune with itself at that pitch, and move on with life.

So, the zampogna was most likely playing a half-step above its intended nominal pitch because that's where it behaved best on that particular day. It's a southern Italian instrument, so I'm going to guess heat and/or sunlight played a role.
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